One of The Mother and Child Foundation’s chief aims is to advise on, and campaign for, marine agriculture. This involves farming the oceans for seafood sustainably, just as we farm the land for livestock.
Several recent news stories have reminded the world of the need for a solution to humanity’s seafood requirements. In China – the world’s greatest fishing nation in terms of catch, fishing vessels and jobs – there are plans to cut the catch over the next few years to protect the environment. There will be protected marine zones, too.
Aquaculture vs marine agriculture
Although laudable for sustainability within the present paradigm, China’s announcement is symptomatic of a system that is not yet being harvested sustainably, merely plundered in a hunter-gatherer manner.
7.5 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) has been earmarked for 2016-20 to subsidise those whose jobs will be affected. They will be encouraged to look for work in the booming industries of aquaculture and recreational fishing.
But, as we have argued elsewhere, aquaculture is not the complete answer, and there are currently many issues undermining the viability of the system – depleted nutrients from poor-quality food pellets not the least among them.
“Aquaculture requires feeding pellets to fish in cages”, says The Mother and Child Foundation’s Professor Michael Crawford, “whereas marine agriculture uses sunlight as the energy source and the elemental wealth of the sea water, with no artificial input. Salmon reared on land-derived feed will lose out, as trace elements are severely diminished in soils in many parts of the world. Simply adding them is not enough. They are only properly bioavailable when ingested in their natural form.”
Paris Agreement – good news for fish?
Meanwhile, Futurity reports on computer simulations that suggest the world’s fishing industry would be boosted by nations meeting the UN’s Paris Agreement target for global warming. Catches could increase by 3% for every degree Celsius decrease in surface temperature, according to a recent report in Science. A 1.5C rise in the tropical Pacific Ocean temperature would only shrink the catch by 12% – which is worrying enough – but a 3.5 degree rise would wipe 47% from the current catch.
Conversely, the computer model suggests that Arctic waters could see catches rise by 20% for every degree Celsius rise in surface temperature – as long as that rise remains below 3.5C. This would be due largely to a reduction in sea ice, resulting in more light and heat getting through, which in turn would promote the growth of phytoplankton at the bottom of a booming food chain. There would also be an invasion of warmer-water fish species (which itself would create an ecological battlefield). All considered, in extreme cases, says the computer model, catches here could quadruple.
Scrap the hunter-gatherer approach in favour of a marine farming model, and fish is most definitely back on the menu.
More gloom for salmon fishing
Following reports last year about the nutritional deficiencies of farmed fish, and Professor Michael Crawford’s doubts about the quality of land-derived aquaculture food pellets (see his Nutraingredients article), the spotlight shifts back this month to the perennial problem of sea lice. The price of salmon has increased worldwide following a plague of the lice, which feed on the fishes’ blood and skin.
Sea lice proliferate in farmed fish, particularly those consisting of netted areas in oceans and lochs. The cramped conditions of intensive aquaculture allow the parasites to spread quickly. Wild salmon are not immune, as the lice spread out from farmed areas.
Singing from the same hymn sheet
Figures from the latest UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey show that the average teenager eats a tenth of the recommended weekly amount of oily fish. This is one of the root causes of poor brain health. 90% of those same teenagers fall below recommended fruit and veg consumption levels too.
So it’s always good to see articles underlining the vital importance of fish for human health and happiness – one of our key themes here at The Mother and Child Foundation. Under the eye-catching headline My cure for depression is cheap and tasty with chips, author and chef Rachel Kelly, “who ate her way back from severe depression”, talks about the irreplaceable benefits of a seafood-based diet in an article for The Times.